Category Archives: Classroom Culture

The End is the Beginning

EDIT: Five minutes after scheduling this post last night I got the email from the Book Love Foundation informing me that I won a Book Love Grant. So….didn’t sleep much last night. Too full up with excitement to write this into the post in a more elegant way. My apologies.

Hello Friends,

Today is the 4th of June and this year, my sixteenth yearly journey through teaching, came to its inevitable conclusion. This “end” though is not only about the end of the school year, but the end of a major part of my life. It was a difficult year, full of hard realizations and tough decisions, floods of water and floods of bullets. Yet…I look forward to a new opportunity in August.

If you traced the path from my house to my school you’d see the tracks my tires have worn in the pavement.  For the past 11 years I’ve driven to the same address every morning and traced that route home every night.  For more than a quarter of my life Clear Springs High School felt like home.  Change, I’ve learned, is/was necessary.  Thankfully, I’ve been given the opportunity to transfer to another high school in our district and  i I eagerly anticipate building a new beginning with a new team.

This is a season of change for me as I’m not just leaving the safety of the only high school in which I’ve ever taught-  I’m leaving coaching.  I can’t begin to list all the reasons why I’ve made that decision, but I will share that time with my family is no longer a commodity upon which I’m willing to negotiate.  Its not a matter of letting go of “the dream” of coaching.  I lived the dream, invested time helping so many boys grow into men, and felt the heat under the lights on Friday nights.  Coaching was like poetry.  Poetry can be happy or sad…devastating or celebratory.

While so much will change, a lot will not. I won’t forget where I came from.  The thousands of hours I spent sweating on the grass still inform my instruction just like the classroom helped me be better on the grass.  I’ll still watch football like a coach; I’ll just do it from the stands holding hands with my daughter or with my arm around my wife.

I’m still insatiably hungry; more eager to learn and grow than ever before.  I’ll continue to seek out opportunities to meet people more knowledgeable than I am and who know a better way of doing things that I do. There are so many of those people out there. From national conferences, to team planning periods, its all new to me and couldn’t be more excited.

I will continue seeking the most effective means of maximizing the power of my instructional practices.  I will continue devouring professional texts and building collaborative relationships with the teachers around me.  I’ll keep applying to present at every possible venue from the campus level to the national level.  I will spread the gospel of literacy and hope to help make a small change in this big world.

I will find ways to empower those around me to love what they do as much as I do. I’ll also seek those that already love it as much as I do and can empower me to share in their energy.

I will read and write because it makes me a better teacher of reading and writing.

What stands out when I look back?

  1. Our “Rooted in Reading” tree is one of the most successful moves I’ve ever made in the classroom.  My students BEAMED when we talked about how many books they recorded on the leaves of that tree. Even when it was transplanted at semester, it continued to grow.
  2. I poured my heart into the kids more than ever before.  The other evening when I asked a colleague when he was going to write his book, he replied: “I don’t know, but its going to be about how it is to build strong relationships with kids.”  I couldn’t agree more.  I would guess that I had a 97% success rate of telling each class that I loved them as the bell rang to release them to their next class.  Next year = 100%.
  3. We all moved as readers and writers.  Some more than others.  Some of us (me) had further to move than others.
  4. Sponsoring Student Council was a massively formative experience for me.  I could write a book about our year and how much we accomplished.  Working with kids that signed up for the class, rather than other reasons, was incredible. These kids changed the world for the better.  They changed me too.

What stands out when I look forward?

  1. The CCISD Literacy Institute!!! I can’t wait to get started (this morning) on this very important work.  Cohort 2 gets to stand on the shoulders of giants.
  2. Life Changes: Not just the song by Thomas Rhett (which is great, btw) but I’ve made some big decisions about what is important to me and who are the people that I want to learn from and grow with.
  3. Making changes in this profession that give young people the tools to stave off the yoke of tyranny. (too idealistic?)
  4. Teaching Pre-AP classes.  I’ve never taught anything but on-level classes so I’m thrilled for this opportunity.

The best stories are the stories of discovery.  Its time to write Act II of my story.

Charles Moore is excited to join the faculty of Clear Creek High School.  He recently discovered the joy of writing curriculum.  He loves going to the movies with his wife, driving his classic Corvette and hates building gates (Its the worst). He just finished reading Ten Things We Did (and probably shouldn’t have).

Advertisements

3 Ways to “Wrap Up” Your School Year

I am an unabashed gift giver.

I love tangible ways to express my appreciation for friends, students, family, colleagues, and anyone else I count as important.

…I also love shopping.

But with an impending move to Wisconsin on the horizon, I don’t love clutter in my home–so I am gifting left and right. That was part of the inspiration this year for how I wanted to finish the semester with my students–students I’ve been with for multiple years, in some cases, and others who I’ve only gotten to know and learn with for one semester.

Like any ending, this one tended to color the ups and downs of our school year into a tone more rosy than reality may have painted. With two kids under two, a hectic semester of required assignments, and the ever-present student mood swings offered by snow days, spring break, and finals week, we all struggled at times to stay committed to our work. No school year is ever smooth, or perfect, or simple–but I still like to celebrate its end annually with something tangible. As such, I give each of my students a gift at the end of every year, and have every year since I began teaching.

Here are three ways I “wrapped up” the ending of this school year–literally.


The Gift of Reading

Two groups of my students and I have been together for two years now, and in those two years, I’ve gotten to know these kids (I mean, they’re adults, but I will always refer to my students as “kids” when I think of them) incredibly well. They will be teaching in all content areas, in all grade levels, but still–I can’t seem to turn off my English teacher brain long enough not to say, hmmm, I know exactly what book that forward-thinking history teacher would like.

So this year, I pulled from my own bookshelves one or two books for each of my students–for their personal reading, for their classrooms, or both. In each book, I wrote the student a note, then wrapped each book individually. This time-intensive gesture has been rewarding in spades as my students contact me to tell me they’ve read and loved their books.

The Gift of Writing

We use Google Docs quite frequently, and one of my favorite activities to have students work on is to respond to a writing prompt on a collaborative Google Doc and proceed to write, think, and argue together on one page.

So this year, I printed out every collaborative Google Doc, group-written book review, team-created list of strategies, or class-crafted series of ideal classrooms, social justice non-negotiables, and pedagogically challenging teaching moves that we’d created and bound them together into a class “Anthology of Awesome,” which each student received.

On our last day of class, we shared the anthologies with donuts and coffee. I also brought thank-you notes for students to write to one another–personal messages they hand-wrote and hand-delivered to their critical friends, who had helped read and respond to their work all semester long.

With these pieces of writing in their pockets, my students left class with tangible reminders of the intellectual portion of our time together.

The Gift of Family

For better or for worse, with the end of each school year together, a class is like a family. Some members are dysfunctional, some are estranged, but in general, we’re a bunch of former strangers who now love, appreciate, and respect one another more than we did four quarters ago.

To help us remember this time together, I wrote my classes each a letter that highlighted each student by name, and comprised some of our memories together, our shared goals, and our funny moments. I added this letter to the beginning of our class anthology to serve as a reminder of our Screen Shot 2018-05-30 at 7.11.46 AM.pngstudents’ names and personalities. For my future teachers, I created our ideal school, in which we’d all teach and get to work together forever. In past years, I simply wrote a letter of well-wishes to my kids, and included each student’s name and a little compliment toward them all.


As we wrap up this school year, these simple gifts are things you might consider crafting to help end your year with students on a high note. It’s easy to get caught up in the end-of-semester hubbub of grades, exams, and packing up classrooms, but I hope you’ll pause to commemorate a year of learning as a group in some way with your students, as well.

Please share how you “wrap up” the school year meaningfully with your students! We’d love to know in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter!

Shana Karnes will soon be leaving the wild and wonderful mountains of West Virginia for the great lakes of Wisconsin. She is excited to continue her involvement in Appalachian education by leading institutes with the National Writing Project at West Virginia University this summer, but will otherwise be relaxing and devouring as many books as she can during her two daughters’ nap times. Connect with Shana on Twitter at @litreader.

3+ Ways to Help Writers Recognize and Celebrate Their Growth

The challenge?

I’ve always enjoyed our end-of-the-semester portfolio in College Prep Senior English. It’s where students typically celebrate their growth as writers. However, with a This-Is-the-Winter-That-Never-Ends leading to loss of instructional days compounded by fewer days for seniors in the spring, my colleague and I knew we couldn’t maintain the portfolio in its current form.

The solution?

So, we opted for celebration days for our writers to reflect on their writing journeys this semester. Their reflections will address the four key concepts of our course: process, purpose, audience, and collaboration. Inspired by Jennifer Serravallo’s The Writing Strategies Book and a few ideas of our own (sometimes constraints really do elicit creative problem solving!), we selected three ways to celebrate our writers, spread out over the last three classes. Each selection involves preparation and presentation (process and product, right?!).

Screen Shot 2018-05-09 at 10.34.19 PM.png

This chart contains the nutshell version of each day. On day 3, we’ll use FutureMe to have them craft their emails to their future selves. 

How will the celebrations go? Why will this matter, right now, in May?

Oh, I think that the students will benefit from feedback from an intended audience; I think they’ll laugh while they toast their pieces; I think making their process visible (as Shana discussed in Artifacts of Our Learning) will reinforce their learning; I think–given some of the relationships built in the classroom–that they’ll enjoy leaving their fellow collaborators love notes; I think that reflection at this threshold moment could help my seniors grasp the significance of their learning journey.

Why will this matter . . . in August?

I’m looking forward to this. Mostly. I’m also looking beyond it, thanks to Nathan. 

Through conferring with Nathan over the last two weeks, I realized that celebration–feeling happy about an occasion and engaging in fun related to it–is not enough. Nathan reminded me that my students also need recurrent recognition–admiration and respect for accomplishments. Yes, I recognize and celebrate strengths in student writing regularly via written feedback. Yes, I do recognize and celebrate application and growth while conferring. But not as consistently as I should. And, I’m certainly not doing a good job of prioritizing recognition and celebration as a whole class community of writers. If I recognized and celebrated successes more, would Nathan have said to me (while working on his final writing for the term), “Can you help me with this so I can produce the kind of writing you’re looking for?” Instead of the kind of good writing needed for the situation, he was still aiming to produce writing to please his teacher. What if I had shown greater recognition–with him while conferring–of progress before this moment? Would our impending celebration matter more? Yep. 

Through the rest of my conferences with Nathan, I tried to shift the conversation toward his audience. I pulled in mentor texts. I modeled some revisions I would make to voice and imagery. And over the next several days and a few conferences later, his piece began to transform, leading to this: “You know, Nathan, I think this has the possibility of being your best piece all year if you keep working at it.” I’m sure you might guess what I’m celebrating here: yes, Nathan sat up straighter, smiled wider, and, ultimately, revised more. He began really crafting. Later he reflected, “It’s like with the other pieces we really had to learn the basics. And this is getting into what really matters.” His words show his own recognition–his understanding and respect–for how his skills built in the course. There’s something to celebrate! And the genesis of this larger realization might be that small moment, that moment of affirmation.

Big celebrations are important. But life is made in the small moments. And, next year I want to consistently recognize and celebrate the good times (anyone else flashback to ’80’s weddings?)–big and small, in big and small ways.  

Next year I will . . . try to have students share lines from their notebooks more. I’ll probably need to schedule it!

Next year I will . . . try to make their successes visible. Maybe I’ll try Penny Kittle’s and Kelly Gallagher’s Beautiful Words Google Doc idea.

Next year I will . . . have my students reflect on and admire moments of growth during the celebrations portion of our weekly class meeting.

Next year I will . . .

It’ll be a dedication to celebration to last throughout the year (my apologies to Kool & the Gang.).

Kristin Jeschke’s life was made in the not-so-small moments of her children’s births. Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of all kinds, everywhere!  She also needs someone to get married soon so she can dance with her mom and her aunties to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke. 

One Concept That Makes Me a Better Teacher: Tempo

Earlier in the Spring I spent a Saturday morning at the new football stadium in Katy, Texas listening to football coaches speak about various aspects of the sport.  That’s right, in January, high school football coaches get together to talk football… for fun.

The speakers presented their philosophies of offense or defense and talked about schemes and personnel.  I loved how, universally, they were: bright, confident, and eager to share their knowledge.

Just like with teachers, collaboration helps grow the profession. Coaches know the importance of sharing insight.  Its something I love and appreciate about the profession.

One speaker, from a school down here by us, presented on the topic of “Tempo.”

Tempo is the offenses ability to change how fast or how slow they snap the football.  In layman’s terms, its a way for an offense to give themselves an advantage over the defense and can be brutally effective when used to full effect.  Often times, tempo can dictate who is going to win or lose a contest.

The same can be true in our classrooms.

Often times, I find myself racing along, pushing the students through this concept or that; when necessary circling back around to re-teach when needed or tie-in an idea that supports our current work. I like to think of workshop pedagogy as weaving a tapestry made of many different threads of many different types and colors.  Sometimes we pull in this string or that one.  Whichever combination of threads that most effectively addresses our students’ needs.

I’m continuously amazed at how well the students facilitate this complexity in their learning.

Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher talked about their process in ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>this amazing podcast. They explain it far better than I ever could.

Momentum

I am a big believer in using momentum in my instruction.  When the students see success in their literacy, I want to capitalize on those feelings of success by moving on to the next idea quickly. Any lull or pause in our movement forward is an opportunity to stop and lose focus. I don’t like “catch up days.”  Every day, in my mind, we should move our literacy forward.

Tempo

What I don’t do often enough, is take a deep breath and slow down.  I’ve found, this year, that I don’t take time to do the “fun” workshop activities. I’m talking about activities that build morale and allow the kids to laugh and, dare I say it…. play.

When they get to approach an activity as “play,” they can find success they haven’t found before:

Or they might find a fun way to learn its okay to come up a little short:

Either way, they are engaged in facilitating their own growth!!!

The assessments I’ve asked them to complete show me so many gaps in their skill sets that I can’t ever find enough time to address them all. But being hard-headed and driving forward without ever taking a moment to relax, we miss out on some of the fun that workshop can facilitate.

I have quantitative data that shows my students are reading and writing more than my previous senior classes and I have the anecdotal information they share with me about reading and writing more than any previous year in their education.  This is important to consider and it is valuable data to analyze as I work towards the end of this year and start thinking about next year.

The data tells me something else.  My students are burned out.  They are done; not just with their writing and reading, but with their thinking. Maybe I moved them too fast through our work in the fall and early spring.  Maybe the world they exist in is so far removed from the one I experienced at that age, that I have no real understanding of their stress levels.

I have to ask myself, what am I trying to accomplish and can I get that done operating the way I operate right now.

“Tempo,” I tell myself, “slow down.”

I have to do a better job keeping our tempo in mind as we finish out their high school education.

I’ll mix in more Poet Moments.  I’ll take more time to let them explore their own voices through narrative work that isn’t for a grade and is for fun.  I’ll change the mode from individual drafting of language to more group feedback. Generally, I’ll ratchet down the intensity of our work and lighten up on the speed with which we attack it.

What are some of the “fun” workshop activities that I can mix into my lesson plans that still hold value and have rigor?

Charles Moore is currently reading Before We Were Yours and The Glass Sword. He spends his newly freed up afternoons waiting to get his kids off the bus and tending to his beloved pool.  He just completed the GRE and hopes to start graduate school in the fall at U of H. One more thing, he recently took his Student Council class to a ropes course leadership facility and it was one of the best days of his teaching career.  Two of the many videos he took are included in this post.

Champions Finish Strong

pexels-photo-332835.jpeg

About this time, every year, I begin to feel that itch, that urge to chuck everything I’m working on right now and start planning for next year. Maybe it’s the feeling of spring in the air, but I always find myself frustrated with how I spent my time this year and wanting to start fresh and clean for next year. So, as I move into test review mode, I begin my wish list for this year and vow to do better in August. It goes something like this:

     I wish that I had conferenced more…next year I’ll conference and here’s how…

     I wish that I had done a better job with writer’s notebooks…next year those notebooks are going to be cute and organized and here’s how…

     I wish that I had frontloaded this idea more in August….next year I’m going to frontload so hard and here’s how…

     I wish that I had taught this title instead or offered more choice here…next year I’m going to revamp every lesson plan and here’s how…

I think it’s pretty easy to recognize the “I wish” road as a treacherous one to travel down. But, honestly, for me, that urge to start planning for next year in the middle of this year is the real danger.

See, all of the end of the year countdown clocks act as siren songs, pulling me into the excitement of planning for a new school year: new pens (because they help me plan better), PD books (I’m starting with 180 Days), Google Folders (because I’m nerd, this will never not make me happy). I’m getting antsy just thinking about it.

And so I find myself eased into bright, happy, shiny thoughts about how perfect next year will be. I look forward to the excitement of a brand new group of students, of a summer spent immersing myself in practice, of all of the hope a new year of school brings.

And I know these are dangerous waters. I also coach volleyball, and, in that context, I would immediately recognize this behavior as problematic. Whenever my team thinks about Tuesday night’s game before Monday night’s game, we have a rough night. We can’t think about the district tournament in October until we’ve handled August. I would put a clamp on that kind of thinking right away on the court. And so, I’m realizing I also have to lock down my mid-April urges to plan for next year.

Why?

Because, in a nutshell, champions finish the way they start.

I think we have to approach the end of the year the same way we started it – fired up, focused on the tasks at hand, bringing that same excitement and hope and enthusiasm to each LONG day of testing and test prep. Don’t our students sitting in our classrooms right now deserve that? Don’t they deserve to know that we’re happy to see them each day they enter our classrooms, not counting down the days until they leave? Don’t they deserve more than filler? Don’t we deserve to be present in the moment, enjoying where we are right now in our journeys together?

But what is there to be excited for during testing season?

Great question. I teach in TN – testing has been… rough… this week.

However,  I’m particularly excited about three activities between here and our AP Lang and Comp test. These are pretty common activities among AP Language teachers, so I’m not presenting anything new here or even my own ideas (good teaching is good stealing according to Harry Wong), but sharing some ideas that have worked for me. They are tried and true ways to keep students involved, interested and invested on this downhill dash to the test:

1. Rhetorical analysis – Role playing. We’re currently role playing as Abigail Adams writing a letter to her son John Quincy. Students pair up (one is Abby, the other is a dear friend there to offer advice) and craft a letter to her son, encouraging him to take advantages of all of his opportunities. Then we read and analyze her actual letter to him. This is a pretty common AP lesson, but it’s new to this class. The simple act of role playing really deepened our discussion of rhetorical analysis and provided lots of AHA moments along the lines of “You’re right! She DIDN’T sit down and think ‘I need four rhetorical questions and one use of asyndeton. She thought about her large and small goals and worked from there!’” Students left with a better understanding of what to notice in a RA and how to organize their essay around ideas instead of devices. Surprisingly, these letters also showcased an almost aggressive level of voice. It was productive and fun – the perfect way to spend a test prep day.

Here are some examples culled from today’s writings.

 

  1. Synthesis – Pinwheel discussion. Again, more role playing. Students jigsaw a few short texts related to a topic and then come to a center table to discuss a single question in front of the whole class. They are encouraged to identify the attitude of the author and then converse with that attitude as that author. Unsurprisingly, they really get into it. The activity has them intentionally synthesizing  multiple perspectives on the fly and on their own in front of an authentic audience, reinforcing the idea of synthesis as conversation and elaboration.

3. Argument  – Speed dating. Five to six thought-provoking prompts are posted on the board one at a time. Students have four or five minutes to brainstorm claims, evidence, organizational structures and a theses. We whip around the room, sharing insights and approaches, curating a list of universal nouns or excellent pieces of evidence, creating ideas that students can tuck away in their back pockets before the test. I love this activity. There’s such great community in the sharing of ideas while also mimicking the time crunch of the written portion of the test.

Hopefully, none of the ideas feel like test prep. Hopefully, it’s just more learning. Hopefully, we find ourselves excited to be in English, fully present in the moment, enjoying our productive time together. The thoughts and ideas for next year can percolate until the end of May.

Sarah Morris teaches AP Language & Composition and Film as Literature in Murfreesboro, Tn. She plans on watching two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Friday’s Film as Lit lesson. She realizes how very lucky she is that this falls under the category of  “Something She Gets To Do At Her Job For Money!!!!” She tweets at @marahsorris_cms.

Story Generates Story, and More

This past weekend, Tom Newkirk tweeted about writiNewkirk Self-Promptsng fluency and the value of “self-prompting,” and he included a list of a dozen+ prompts that foster such fluency. For Tom, these prompts “swirl in his head” as he writes. For our students, we need to build the habit of prompting questions into their process. Whether through daily writing, regular conferring, or sheer faith in the possibility, many students this year have discovered the true generative nature of writing — a sentence begets a sentence, begets a sentence, and so on. Alas, too many have not.

Our students hear from published poets and slam poetry veterans (our school librarians put on a magnificent Poetry Week every year) about lengthy revision processes. They view interviews with their favorite authors who explain the grueling evolution from idea to draft to revision to “finished” piece. They read lots of writers on writing about the toil of the work. Still, more students than I care to admit still believe in some divine inspiration behind the magic of words on a page, which one either receives or does not. And, to try to write without this inspiration (as in, every day in their Writer’s Notebooks) is a futile endeavor.

Tom’s recent tweet seemed divine in its timing. The day before, as an in-school field strip, 10th-grade English classes participated in a workshop with storytellers from Chicago’s 2nd Sstory_line_awk-e1523848925727.jpgtory, an organization that holds storytelling events, workshops, and education in the value of story — in both the telling and the listening — as the source of human connection. The name 2nd Story refers to the very nature of story as generative: one shares a story of their own experience, which inevitably reflects some aspect of the universal, and then invites others to do the same.

Presenters shared their own stories, which included universals such as losing our youthful belief in things magical, facing our greatest fears and living story_line_rightto tell, proving we’re capable of what others believe we are not. Then they got students up out of their seats in parallel lines or inside-outside circles, so humans faced other humans, screen-free. First, students shared one-sentence stories based on prompts like “I felt [insert emotion] when …” or “Tell about a time when you … broke or ruined something … told a lie … received a gift you really wanted (or not) …” Lines and circles shifted and rotated to maximize the quantity of faces in contact.

Sure, it was awkward and scary at first for many — if not most — of these 15- and 16-year-olds, who may or may not have met before. Gradually, though, as stories even as brief as one sentence were shared, it became less so.

In one of the two workshop rooms, students talked in pairs, sharing their stories by kelly_empathyjpg.jpgelaborating on one of the prompts from the first part of the exercise. I could hear the energy in the room even before I was fully in the door. Moving through pairs of students, I could hardly hear the stories themselves, but no matter. story_lean-in.jpgWhat mattered was that students were hearing them from their partners, many of whom started out as strangers (different classes were blended into one workshop). And not just hearing, but listening. They began, literally, to lean in, closing distances through shared stories and the natural empathy that results. When we return to our regular classrooms this week, students will begin recording their stories on FlipGrid, listening to and commenting on one another’s without the high stakes and vulnerability (even unfamiliarity) of face-to-face, real-time human interaction. Which reminds me …

story_engagement.jpgI’d like to pause briefly to offer this qualifier: On-demand, face-to-face, forced interaction with strangers is not every 10th grader’s cuppa tea. (Heck, it’s not every adult’s cuppa, either.) In fact, several students literally waited it out on the sidelines. But even these reticent, reluctant, and even recalcitrant folks couldn’t help but listen — and be drawn into — the stories of others. And maybe even, as a result, classmates who were still strangers became less “other” than they had been 90 minutes earlier. I’m even holding onto the possibility that the stories heard that day will sustain their generative power and elicit even more — not only more stories, but more listening, more “leaning in,” more empathy, even more inspiration: not from any divine spirit, but from engagement with each other and with the work of writing — and speaking — their truth.

Formative Assessment Works!!!

For those of you who haven’t taught Seniors, trust me on this:  Formative assessment during the second semester is challenging.

If you’ve taught seniors, then you might understand where I’m coming from:  Sometimes it’s hard to tell if they aren’t grasping a concept, or they are just too tired of school to have the energy to engage.

I hurts my heart to even consider that my precious learners are worried about bigger issues than Comparative Literary Analysis essays or finding examples of bias in their self-selected texts.  Prom looms five days away and graduation seven weeks after that.  They work, they compete in extra curriculars, they deal with the adults and peers in their lives.  I forget, sometimes, that their plates are filled with important thoughts.  I remind myself I’m not doing their stress levels any favors by point out that we still have important work to do before June 2nd.

Last Monday we reviewed an excerpt from Niel Schusterman’s Thunderhead as a mentor text for practicing literary analysis through all the lenses that should be crystal clear to these literate learners.  I needed to assess their understanding and thinking so that I could make decisions about the instruction leading up to the summative assessment.  That’s the point of formative assessment; to “form” a plan for instruction.

I read the short selection with them, and asked them if they would, please, mark their thinking on this first lap through the text.  They should, as they’ve done many times before, underline or highlight what they noticed about the words the author chose through the lenses of diction, bias, author’s purpose…literally anything they noticed within the realm of literary analysis. It’s the last nine weeks of their public education career. They should be able to look at a text through a variety of lenses.

Some of them made some marks on the page while others wrote notes next to highlighted lines or words.  Others, though, marked nothing.  [Alarms wiggle and stir in my head. Something’s not right.]

I asked them to share within their groups what they noticed.  Muted whispers of ethos, tone, and metaphor struggled out of some groups, but again, most said very little.  Very few connections were being made. For them and for me, the picture was as clear as mud. This, by itself, is important formative assessment. This wasn’t working. [Def Con 55- Full tilt klaxons at maximum volume!]

Yet, I refuse to blame them.  I fully believe that it is solely on me, the teacher, to facilitate engagement with the text.  Somehow I need to do a better job inviting them to take all those useful tools out of their tool belts and dissect this very meaningful text.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

I bear a striking resemblance to Tom Brady.  Photo by Keith Allison

In football parlance, I needed to call an audible in the middle of the game. What I had hoped they would do; they won’t or can’t.  It’s time for me to jump in and scaffold this concept to a place where they can see the connections they can make and I can assess their thinking.  I’m not going to put them in a position to fail on the summative assessment if I know they aren’t ready for it.

In a whole class mode, I read over the text, mark what I notice and verbalize my analysis.

Now I ask them to talk about what they notice.  There it is…an increase in discussion, an inflation in dialogue. The alarm volume turns down a notch, but it doesn’t turn off.

I wrap the class period up with an invitation to write about what moves the author is making and as they do I confer with a few students who seem completely flabbergasted.  The bell tolls, signaling an end to their literary torture session.

 

Thus was the source of my salvation:

book

I only saunter.

Jumping into this book reminded me of a few important tenets of writing instruction that I let myself forget:

  1. Give them choice- I was allowing no choice in the subject of their analysis.  I know better than to restrict their reading and writing experiences and I let my, and their, end of the year exhaustion affect my decision making.
  2. Show them, not tell them, what you want to assess.  I wasn’t showing them examples of literary analysis and again, I know better.  I was expecting, wrongly, that Senior English students would confidently engage in literary analysis and move forward with their thinking in a way that shows me they can write a response in essay form.

After school, I tore up my lessons plans for the next four days and re-wrote them to reflect what I SHOULD do to support my students in this exploration.

On page 5 of their amazing new book Marchetti and O’Dell introduce a mentor text written by Joe Fassler from The Atlantic.  His recurring series “By Heart” is a collection of responses from a diverse group of thinkers and writers and is an amazing resource.  A simple Google search returned a link to this series of essays. I scanned the list of the titles and discovered an article from September titled, “What Writers Can Learn From Goodnight Moon.”   In it, Celeste Ng describes her feelings of the children’s book and how it “informs” her writing.

Perfecto!!!

This checked so many of the boxes of what I was looking for in a mentor text.  And…I get to read a children’s book to “big” kids.  I know enough about my students to know they will love this.

Also, I used Marchetti and O’Dell’s five part descriptions of literary analysis on pages 11 and 12 to create a glue-in anchor chart for their readers’/writers’ notebooks that helped to clarify what exactly we should look for when reading and writing literary analysis.

Confidence restored! Disaster averted… kind of.

We Ng’s reflection and discussed how this was a perfect example of literary analysis.  They asked questions, we laughed about Goodnight Moon.  I saw their confidence grow and I knew we were back on track and ready to move toward our essay.

Thursday, we started the drafts and I hope to see many of them tomorrow.

Being responsive and intentional is a crucial part of the workshop pedagogy.  I can’t stress enough how this one piece can make our break my teaching.  My lesson planning skills have finally reached the point where I plan for and anticipate opportunities to change up what we are doing to match what the students need. This was an opportunity for which I hadn’t planned, but we made the adjustment and made it work.

Sometimes, that’s how it goes.

Let me know in the comments below when you’ve had to make big changes on the fly to support your students’ learning. I know I can’t be the only one.

Charles Moore is neck deep in Children of Blood and Bone.  He’s spending the day taking his daughter to school and then having lunch with her.  It might be the best day of his life.  His summer TBR list is growing uncontrollably; feel free to add to it in the comments.

%d bloggers like this: